Businesses rely on having a healthy and productive workforce. Conditions like anxiety, depression and long term excessive stress are experienced by one in six British workers each year. Over the past five years, employers have repeatedly cited stress as the number one reason given by employees who take time off work.

Research by Mind, the mental health charity, recently confirmed that a culture of fear and silence around mental health can be costly to employers:

  • More than one in five (21 per cent) agreed that they had called in sick to avoid work when asked how workplace stress had affected them
  • 14 per cent agreed that they had resigned and 42 per cent had considered resigning when asked how workplace stress had affected them
  • 30 per cent of staff disagreed with the statement ‘I would feel able to talk openly with my line manager if I was feeling stressed’
  • 56 per cent of employers said they would like to do more to improve staff wellbeing but don’t feel they have the right training or guidance

What does mental distress look like?

Although it can still be a taboo subject, mental distress is very common, with one in four people experiencing a mental health problem in any one year. Mental distress can affect how people think, feel and act and as a result, people may behave, communicate or respond in ways that give rise to concern.

In some cases, individuals may not disclose a mental health condition, but the Mind organisation suggests several behaviours to look out for that may indicate they are experiencing distress:

  • Does the individual appear overly stressed, disturbed or distracted?
  • Do they appear withdrawn, dazed or shutdown?
  • Are they fidgety or jumpy?
  • Are they speaking incoherently or laughing incongruously?
  • Do they seem over excited, euphoric, irritable or aggressive?
  • Do they appear to have illogical or irrational thoughts?
  • Do they keep repeating themselves or obsessing?
  • Do they appear to not be taking information in?
  • Do they seem to over respond t experiences, sensations or people not observable by others?

If you suspect an employee may be experiencing mental distress, it’s important not to make assumptions, consult them first about any impact this may or may not be having.

What can a business do?

Tackle the causes

Make sure that work the environment is suitable. Noise, temperature and light levels can all have an impact on wellbeing. Where possible and suitable to the business consider workspace dividers and quiet spaces to help improve the work environment. For staff working in isolation, ensure there are clear and regular lines of communication. This can be as simple as a regular phone catch-up.Consider introducing an informal mentoring scheme where suitable to help new staff members understand the business faster and to support them in their role.

The job

Set reasonable and agreed deadlines for work completion.
Provide a suitable working environment.
Define the work role and responsibilities as much as is possible.
Involve employees in the planning of their workload where possible.

The business

Encourage and promote an open environment at work. Employees need to feel confident and supported if they choose to discuss their mental health issues. Remember, it is their choice whether to disclose any issues and sensitive personal information should always remain confidential. Keep records of sickness absence and use them to analyse the causes of absence Promote a supportive working environment with regular catch-ups.

Career and personal development

Create clear management and appraisal structures involving the employee and take into account the views of employees with respect to job satisfaction and career development.

Support your people

If you become aware of a staff member experiencing mental distress the first step is to establish honest and open communication with them:

  • Focus on the person not the problem. Talk to the employee and ask if they need any short-term adjustments to their working environment.
  • They are the expert on their own mental health, so they are best placed to know what they need.

Sometimes staff may need to take some time off as sick leave due to mental ill health. If this becomes the case remember to:

  • Keep in contact
  • Explore adjustments to working conditions or to the working environment to aid their return such as flexible hours or changes to their responsibilities
  • Develop a recovery action plan with them to identify the signs of mental distress, who you may need to contact, and what support would help

Personal issues affecting staff

Try to stay aware of relevant personal issues affecting staff such as illness, bereavement and other stress related factors that may contribute to an employee struggling to cope in the workplace. This is easier to do when carried out informally such as a catch-up over coffee or lunch.

How a business deals with mental health issues reflects massively on their reputation as an employer. For the sake of the health of individual and the business, taking mental health issues seriously is good for everyone.

Employers and candidates tell us that First Base is their first choice for help with their recruitment requirements and their personal career progression. If you would like to know more about how the First Base team could help you, contact us on 01453 755330.